I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but I never seem to find the right words. So thought I might as well kick it off and blether on and see where it takes me! Warning: I type quickly and I’m a bit verbose. Sorry about that.
A thought on (in)fertility and adoption
If you follow my blog then you might know that I’m currently going through fertility treatment. IVF. I have a few more days to go of the “2 week wait” and I’m not really expecting it to be positive, because I’ve been infertile for as long as I can remember. I’ve never been pregnant and I’m 30-something, emphasis on the something. I’m pretty resigned to the fact that I can’t influence it so there’s no point in worrying about it. We’ll wait and see.
Because of this, one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot more lately is this concept of family and how one is made. I think of how my [adoptive] mother must have felt going through the same thing as I’m going through now (unexplained long term infertility) and how that ended up in me being adopted. Not to mention my [birth] mother who went through the experience of pregnancy and carrying me and then didn’t end up with a child.
And having been adopted as a baby (I can’t remember not being adopted) I think that adds a certain dimension to the idea of trying to have a biological child. It’s the idea that you want to make a type of relationship that you’ve never had since you can remember – a biological, genetic relationship. For me one of the answers to the usual “Why don’t you just adopt?” question (in reference to not having children – yes, people are regularly that rude) is that it’s a bit more complex than that. People don’t just adopt because they’re infertile – for some (a minority, admittedly), adoption’s a first choice. For the vast majority it’s a reaction to infertility, or a way to grow the family after having given birth to some children without having to give birth again.
But in all adoptions there’s a loss.
And a lot of the time it’s written about in the context of the parents’ (specifically the mother’s) loss (as if fathers don’t feel loss! or siblings…). In the adoption triad there are the birth parents, the adoptive parents and the adopted person. And they all have a loss. It differs in every triad but the fact is that you end up with a situation where the person who was adopted doesn’t grow up with their original parents. They’ve lost their family and history and culture… The one they were meant to grow up in. And they’ve lost their genetic links.
The mindblowing thing about adoption is that (unless you’re adopted as a sibling group or by one of your biological relatives) you never know anyone to whom you have a genetic link – until/unless you give birth to a child. Think about that. If you’re not adopted, you take it for granted. You have someone who looks like you. You have someone (if you’re lucky) who would die for you, who never had to make the choice to love you. There’s this thing you have, an anchoring, a sense of being, a modelling after someone… that adopted people don’t have. I’ve never met anyone who looked like me. Never felt a spark of recognition. Have always imprinted on people who are a different race to mine. Have gone from relationship to relationship wanting that kin feeling, wanting one person to die for. (If that sounds dramatic, I’ve been told that I am a bit prone to hyperbole, so excuse me for that… If you can’t do it on your own blog, where can you?!)
Who am I?
I think of it as I was taken out of one life as a baby and plonked into another one. The life that my (bio) siblings had. Our family life. A nice life by all accounts. I can’t put a value judgement on my life vs my possible/original life as I don’t know what my other life would have been. But having been transracially adopted from the other side of the world I can safely say that it would have been pretty different. From a philosophical perspective, I feel like I think in English, and my inner thoughts are based in English and this white culture which should have been foreign to me. Would I have the same voice? Would I be the same person? There’s no way of knowing. All I know is I’d have had very different experiences in my life, and if experiences maketh the (wo)man, chances are I wouldn’t be me. WTF. I think on a basic level that you always have in the back of your mind: You were meant to be someone else. Someone else who looks like you.
(***Oh and needless to say, these are my thoughts and I don’t speak for anyone else. I know this subject is sensitive for many and I hope you can understand that this is the random workings of my mind, rather than speaking for all adoptees!)
Context of having been adopted
The other experience or lens is that my partner is also adopted*. And I come from a family where half of the kids were adopted and half weren’t. And we know people who were adopted and who have adopted children more recently. So we have a lot of experience of adoption within our mini family. Even the dog is adopted! (*I really don’t want to speak for him – T, not the dog; I have to speak for the dog as he can’t speak English – but I think it does put a lens on fertility treatments as maybe he can understand more than most that desire to have a biological relation in his life. Although we generally would just like to have a baby!)
I’ve always been very open about having been adopted – it’s pretty hard not to when you’re a different colour from a lot of your family and from most of the people you work with and hang out with on an everyday basis. Where I am in the UK, my ethnicity is a minority, and is considered “foreign”, and I’m not part of any kind of cultural ethnicity. I look different but I’ve no rich culture or heritage to fall back on to explain it. I’ve had the same [interesting, well travelled but ultimately UK-centric] upbringing as my non-adopted non-ethnic siblings. And I think it’s kind of difficult to tease out the experiences of being a different race from the experience of having been adopted, because I’m both. I always felt growing up that most of the “problems” came from being not-white in a white world, rather than not being biologically related to others.
As a scientist at heart, I’ve always been interested in the potential effect of having been adopted. And I think it’s hard to sort out how you feel about a defining experience like that – having the family you weren’t destined to have before someone intervened – without that somehow clouding the data. I mean, it’s all anecdotal. Others close to me were adopted but not transracially, so I can see there’s a different effect there. The whole reunion thing and possibilities are different when you were adopted in a process where you could in theory track down your birth parents, rather than one across cultures, languages, continents. All I can go on is my own experience and those that I’m told, and those I read. I’m interested in experiences and trying to understand them, but equally, having been adopted and being an ethnic minority isn’t something I’ve ever had an alternative experience for.
Having to decide what family means
For me to give birth to a child, I have to make a conscious, determined decision to try and have one, and I also have to have a willing partner who feels the same way. We can’t just throw contraception to the wind and see what happens. I’ve had over a decade of infertility which suggests it won’t “just happen” if I “relax”. I’ve done all that stuff. And when you start thinking about how you could, if you wanted to, have a child – it’s a bit less straightforward than for most people. It’s in the context of having been one of the members of an adoption triad. The adopted person. The adoptee. (I hardly ever say adoptee… I’m not keen on it for some reason, I think because it makes it sound like it’s my one defining feature. I was adopted, once, a long time ago. I don’t keep being adopted, although I won’t ever stop having been adopted. Confusing.) When it comes to infertility, the focus is often on the prospective parents and the biological parents and I guess it is a little bit different when you have been the child.
I realise this is a bit rambly… What I’m trying to do is get my thoughts straight as I’ve had quite a few about adoption lately, in the context of going through infertility treatment and thinking about what makes a family, and maybe just getting to “that age” where apparently all adopted people are interested in finding out more. And you naturally (apparently) get more thoughtful about your origins when you start having kids. I haven’t started having kids yet. I may never have any, but I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about it, what with injections, egg harvesting and embryo transfers… so maybe it’s natural that I’d have these thoughts.
So here are some questions I’ve been thinking about. Maybe I’ll try and answer them in different posts, to prevent eye strain!
Do parents feel differently about adopted vs biological children?
The language of adoption: What do you call your family members?
Wiki on language of adoption here. Discussion on MPB’s blog as a prospective adopting parent here. Language is always changing and (having done part of my uni studies on language) I am interested in how adoption language defines adoption. Where are you from? Where are you really from? Do you want to meet your real parents? – the usual questions you get used to answering if you’ve been adopted. (For a comical view, see here.) I apparently use the old fashioned “adoption positive” language: birth mother, [adoptive] mother – the tide is turning now towards an ongoing acknowledgement of adoption “honest adoption language”. I don’t know how I feel about that… Here are my thoughts. (Again: long and rambly.)
“Happy adoptees” vs “Angry adoptees” and “The adopted voice”
I’ve always kind of waxed and waned in my interest in adoption throughout my life. I’ve generally been positive about it so I guess I count as one of the “happy adoptees”. What I’ve realised lately is that there are a lot of adopted people online who are much more active and vocal about having been adopted. There’s a whole movement that completely passed me by called Flip the Script. I think that adoption in general is much more of a “thing” overseas. In the UK, people just don’t speak about it very often.
It can feel a bit polarised in the online community – maybe it’s just because of the subject matter I’ve been reading (infertility stuff = positive adoption stories, adoption as a solution to a problem; adoptee stuff = the adoptee voice, adoption as a grief experience). I feel like I have both sides to me but aware that I’m probably categorised in the positive camp, which makes me feel like a bit of a fraud. (Should I be sad about being adopted all the time? Am I an apologist for adoption? The Grateful Adoptee?) So definitely some more thoughts on that to follow. (Oh… Here they are! Warning: Long. Click here if you fancy reading.)
Other than the blogs mentioned above, I think I’ve read every book on Amazon UK that mentions adoption over the years. Some stand out more than others in my mind. I’ve done a post here with some of them and hopefully we can add more in if people have recommendations in the comments.
You’re adopted… You’re infertile… Children need homes… Why don’t you just adopt?
Does race matter?
Ethnicity, cultural stuff, skin colour, how do I identify? I’m not white. What am I? Should parents who adopt try and keep links to their child’s original culture/language/heritage? Some interesting stuff here and more thoughts on that to follow! (I have a lot of thoughts – sorry!)
You’re related the same amount to your siblings/parents as anyone else. Isn’t that weird?
Yes. And no. I still feel a cultural taboo so there’s no danger of me wanting to sh*g my family members, you’ll be pleased to know. I never get that whole Woody Allen thing. I definitely feel differently about my [adoptive] family to how I feel about people I didn’t grow up with. More thoughts to follow.
Has being adopted screwed up your relationships in the past?
This is a biggy. I’ve screwed up relationships in the past. I was adopted. Did I screw them up because I was once adopted? Do I as an adopted person have different needs in a relationship than someone who was brought up by their biological family? (Or am I just a tosser?) I don’t know. But I do have a bunch of thoughts whirling round my head about those.
Does the primal wound ever heal?
Adopted people are more likely to commit suicide. They’re more likely to suffer from depression. Can you only be happy as an adopted person if you find your roots? Should I want to “find my roots”? (I have never done anything about it because I was adopted so far away from where I came from, it seemed like an insurmountable task, and I’m the kind of person who doesn’t set myself up for disappointment, cf IVF and low expectations.) I know people who have, and I know people who haven’t. Do I even have a primal wound? I’m generally fine with being adopted. I can’t do anything about it. But… I cry at certain things about adoption, so I know there is some part of me somewhere that feels grief about it. Are happy adoptees just repressed? I need to think about that one.
Hmm, I do go on a bit. I’m just pushing thoughts out there into the ether! I started this blog to talk about and make sense of infertility, and somehow I’ve turned it to reflections on adoption. I think about this stuff in greater detail than I do about IVF, I think. IVF is just a process I’m going through, and I’m sort of at the mercy of it. I don’t have this huge philosophical process around it because I just have to trust the doctors to do their best. I have to trust my partner to support me. There’s not a whole lot I can do to help it other than dose myself up on meds as specified, not smoke/drink, and let what happens happen. I don’t have any complex thoughts around it other than I hope it works. It’s interesting to me that this has really kicked off a lot of thoughts around adoption. Maybe they’re inextricably linked. Maybe you just get these sorts of identity and what if questions when you’re thinking about babies. Or maybe I’m just a self-indulgent blethering idiot! 🙂
PS I just thought of this question:
How do you square up the concept of abortion with having been adopted?
Or, in the immortal words of M——- M—– (*name has been obscured for anonymity), “You’re adopted. How do you feel that you should have been aborted?” (Yeah, she was a b*tch – a year older than me at school, and after we’d been forced to watch The Silent Scream in one of our personal/social education classes. As an adopted person, I think it’s strange to think that in today’s abortion-permissive society, there are whole load of us “ghosts” who might have never lived. One for a future post! (I’ve started answering the questions separately so will link back.)